Like a whole lot of people in 1994, I was completely caught off guard by “Dumb and Dumber,” a comedy directed by two Farrelly brothers no one had yet heard of. After “Ace Ventura” (1992) and “The Mask” (1994), Jim Carrey could do no wrong, so we went anyway and now it’s one of those movie-going experiences I’ll never forget. Maybe 3 or 4 other times I’ve come that close to laughing myself to death in a movie theater.
In ’94 I was still in my 20s. Today I’m 15 months away from 50. Nonetheless, “Dumb and Dumber” still puts me on the floor and ranks as a brilliant comedy alongside the best of Abbott and Costello, the brothers Marx, and Bing and Bob.
After a monstrous worldwide haul of nearly $250 million, a sequel seemed inevitable. And it was. It just took 20 years, 6 screenwriters, and two movie stars and two directors long past their glory days to finally bring Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne back together again.
You might recall that 20 years ago Lloyd (Jim Carrey) didn’t get the girl. This heartbreak turned him into a catatonic, and every week, for two decades, Harry (Jeff Daniels) has faithfully visited his institutionalized and unresponsive friend. A failing kidney and the immediate need to find a donor snaps both of the kind-hearted morons out of it. Soon we’re off on another road trip with, yes, another assassin in tow.
Even though they are both in the their fifties, Carrey and Daniels slip back into these now-iconic character with surprising ease. Our two leads are certainly game, the script just isn’t up to snuff.
“Dumb and Dumber” built laugh upon laugh; created a rolling laughter until you could hardly breathe. Jokes were set up long in advance that caught you off guard with brilliant pay-offs. You couldn’t wait to see what happened next. The sequel cracks you up here and there, but never comes anywhere close to reproducing the comedic genius. Part of the problem is the story, which self-consciously tries too hard to reproduce the exact same story beats and situations as its predecessor.
To my surprised delight, “Dumb and Dumber To” did not try to one-up its legions of man-child Hollywood imitators with non-stop gross-out jokes. Butts and farts and an old lady looking for a cheap thrill (one of the best gags) are everywhere. In keeping with the tone of the original, it’s naughty, not dirty, and pretty tame by today’s stomach-churning standards.
Still, after an hour the nostalgia wears thin, the jokes become more miss than hit (especially Harry judging a science contest), and the plot twists stop making sense as the story thins to an uninspired nothing. It’s also missing the warmth and moments of true joy that came with being on the road with these guys.
While I’m sure she was willing, watching Kathleen Turner mocked throughout for losing her youthful beauty (“Excuse me, sir?”) just made me sad. Harry screaming, “Show us your tits!” to a nice young lady was more mean than hilariously inappropriate. Lloyd’s sexual longing for Harry’s daughter is sometimes funny and sometimes creepy.
You might want to wait for Redbox.
John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC